After grabbing our attention during her brief stint on Saturday Night Live, Casey Wilson won our hearts as peppy but perpetually single Penny Hartz on ABC’s Happy Endings, which returns October 23 for a third season. You’ll be happy to learn that the 31-year-old screenwriter and Upright Citizens Brigade alum is just as ah-mah-zing as her characters.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: My first question is this: Can we be best friends?
Casey Wilson: My first answer is yes.
I’m guessing you get friendship proposals from gay men all the time.
A lot more than any kind of proposals from straight men, and that’s just the way I like it. It’s very sweet. I mean, you can’t always tell if someone’s gay over Twitter, but when he’s talking to you about Real Housewives, it’s probably OK to assume.
Before Happy Endings, your SNL characters included quadriplegic stripper Dusty Velvet and Cougar Den cohost Toni Ward. Were you conscious of gay fans even then?
I was, actually. I didn’t have the greatest ride on SNL, but I always felt support from gay fans, which made me feel accepted within a place I didn’t feel totally accepted.
What is it about Penny that’s resonated with the LGBT audience?
I don’t know, but I’m so thankful. She’s got a lot of energy, she’s very positive, she’s so unafraid of putting herself out there, and she’s running a million miles in the wrong direction. She’s someone you can laugh at but also love. But I think a line from the first season sums it up: She’s almost like the group’s “offensively stereotypical gay guy.”
In real life you’ve said that you’re obsessed with Kris Jenner’s autobiography, you host Real Housewives viewing parties, and your favorite show is The Comeback. Are you also a stereotypical gay guy?
Well, when you synthesize my interests like that, all signs do point to it.
Adam Pally plays Penny’s best friend Max, a gay character who’s anything but stereotypical.
Yeah, I think TV was the last place to catch on that representing people as they are is so much more refreshing. Max is gay, but he’s also annoying, a slob, and whatever, because you can be gay and also a million other things. It’s the right time to be telling the truth with characters on TV, and it feels great to be a part of that.
Pally told The Advocate that, regardless of whom his character inspires or offends, his goal is to be as funny as possible. Is that of utmost importance?
I think that’s what people respect. There are sometimes concerns about being respectful with a gay character, and you either end up with a tiptoeing quality or an all-out cliché. It’s great that we’ve pushed past that to just create a hilarious character, gay or not. My mom’s brother was gay, and he actually passed away from AIDS when I was 13. He was quite a character, but he also worked at the electrical plant, so he was this complicated guy with a big laugh who would wear a trucker hat and do impressions. He was gay, but to me Uncle Alan was just the funniest person in the world.
How did his death impact you?
He was so young when he passed, so it made a huge impact on me, and I’ve always been deeply committed to AIDS research. I also remember that when he passed away I wanted all of his books, because they were the most amazing biographies of, like, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and James Dean, and I still have them.
When it comes to making gay friends, do you prefer a guy like Max or a guy like Stephen Guarino’s Happy Endings character Derek, whom Max calls a “flamboyant, cartoonish Sex and the City gay.”
My friendship box has fifty shades of gay. [Laughs] And that might be dumbest thing I’ve ever said.
Who’s your Max equivalent in real life?
My friend Matt, who I met at NYU. Matt and I really get into our margaritas. We always say, “We need to take a beat,” and then we go have a ball at Marix in West Hollywood, which is basically a gay taqueria we’ve gone to for eight years. I lived with Matt when I first moved to L.A., and we used to lie in bed together, split an Ambien, and pass out side by side while reading sad self-help books like The Power of Now. I thought that was a poignant image of us trying to better ourselves. You’ve actually seen him on Happy Endings as Colin Hanks’s intern Dean, the guy who’s looking for cocaine.
Max and Penny have a sexual history on Happy Endings. Have you ever dated a gay man?
My boyfriend teases me that I’ve probably dated so many gay guys, but I really haven’t. But during high school I went to Yale School of Drama for one summer, and there was a guy there, Michael, who I knew was gay, but I was so unwilling to accept it. I asked him out, and I think I even tried to kiss him. I was 16, I cried, I thought I was in love — it was very sad. I haven’t tried to go further down the road with a gay guy than that. But if I’m being honest with myself, I was also in love with my East Coast gay, Kevin, when we were at NYU.
So it’s not that your gaydar is off —
Right, I just choose not to accept my gaydar.
You got your start in comedy at Upright Citizen Brigade. Did you have gay characters in your repertoire?
My writing partner June Diane Raphael and I did this two-woman sketch show, Rode Hard and Put Away Wet, where June played a great Irish step-dancing teacher who was gay. After seeing us perform, this lesbian couple rented out the theatre and paid us to do the show for their friends. From there, we started playing this circuit of houses in the New York lesbian community, and it was so great, because they really got a kick out of our characters. June and I have always found humor in straight women who are sexually repressed and too scared to explore the other side.
Have you explored?
I’ve always been so boy-crazy, so I never really went down that road, for better or worse. I once complained to a gay friend, “Lesbians never hit on me.” He said, “Because you just reek that you’re straight, so they don’t even bother.
Who’s your celebrity girl crush?
Kristen Wiig. It’s weird to say you have a crush on someone you’re friendly with, but she’s so fabulous. And Melissa McCarthy.
While shooting your upcoming film Ass Backwards, which you wrote with June Diane Raphael, you released a casting call for lesbians or women who could play lesbians. Did the ladies come out of the woodwork for you?
Oh, we got a great group. There’s this commune for older lesbians that I read about in the New York Times, so when we were writing this female buddy road trip comedy, we thought it would be funny if our characters, who are on their way to a beauty pageant, stopped by a lesbian commune, where the ladies would be horrified that we were about to parade our bodies like meat. Lea DeLaria, who’s a genius, actually bared almost all for us in a tribal dance.
Are there lesbian love scenes in the movie?
June’s and my character think everybody wants to fuck us, but of course these women at the commune do not at all. So we end up crossing the line with one of the women played by Sandy Martin, who genuinely wants to help us, but we take it as an overture that she wants more from us.
You also included a gay-coded male secretary in your movie Bride Wars. When working on a script, are you and June conscious of making it LGBT-inclusive?
I don’t think we have to be conscious of it. It just happens. It’s funny, because our characters in Ass Backwards are codependent best friends that we figured some people would think they were gay, and we’re fine with that. Oh, and our dear friend Drew Droege, who plays Chloë Sevigny on the Internet, is in the opening frame of our movie as a homeless drag queen.
You recently sold your sitcom The Housewives, which is about ladies in the 1950s, to ABC. Will you be exploring the repressed sexuality of that time period?
That’s sort of sad, and the show will be a comedy, but of course we will.
You appeared in one of the rotating casts of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Off-Broadway play Love, Loss and What I Wore. Were you one of the actresses assigned to perform the lesbian wedding story?
Of course, yeah, and I did it with Miss Tracee Ellis Ross, which was amazing. I actually did the original reading of that play when they were looking for financing, so I got to meet [original cast member] Rosie O’Donnell, which was a huge moment for me. We had so much fun.
You also volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What was that experience like?
It was surreal that they included me so much in the campaign. It just was two weeks in Indiana, but I got to travel with the Clintons and introduce them on the road. It was wild.
Do you feel a responsibility to use your celebrity to support political causes?
Well, part of me wonders if anyone really cares or if anyone’s going to change their vote because Scarlett Johansson’s at the DNC, but if people really are affected by stuff like that, then yeah, we should we standing up and supporting Obama, because it’s a close race.
Were you raised in a political household?
My mom was president of the Women’s Political Caucus, which worked to get women elected, so I’m very passionate about women in politics. My dad’s a Republican, so it was a very divided household — my mom, brother, and I against my dad. We still battle on some things, but my dad also supports gay marriage and is pro-choice, so he’s such a bleeding heart. My brother and I caught him crying the night Obama was elected.
Finally, tell me everything about your appearing opposite Barbra Streisand in the upcoming film The Guilt Trip.
I play a receptionist that Barbra Streisand’s character wants to set up Seth Rogen’s character with. It’s a very small part, but it was a dream to be on set with Barbra Streisand. She’s in beautiful control. I don’t mean she’s controlling, but she knows everything that’s going on and she’s so involved in such a graceful, beautiful way. I didn’t know what to expect, but she was so kind to me, so funny, and just on her shit like nobody’s business.
Who’s your Barbra — Yentl Barbra, The Mirror Has Two Faces Barbra…?
Meet the Fockers Barbra. No, it’s Funny Girl Barbra for sure. But I’m not going to lie, I love Prince of Tides Barbra too.
The Advocate, November 2012 issue, extended online version.